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Workplace Representation

Elected works councils are the main channel of workplace representation for employees in Spain, although the law also gives a specific role to the unions at the workplace and in larger workplaces the trade union delegate may be the key figure. The works councils themselves are dominated by the unions and, as well as information and consultation rights, they also bargain on pay and conditions at company level.



Workplace representation in Spain has a clear legal framework, provided in the main by the 1980 workers statute and the 1985 law on trade union freedom. The law provides for elected representatives of the whole workforce in all but the smallest companies - employee delegates or works council. There are also separate union delegates in bigger companies.



Formally the workplace representation structure of employee delegates and works councils does not depend on union involvement, but in practice the unions play a central role. The vast majority of elected representatives are proposed by the unions and around three quarters of them come from the CCOO and the UGT.



Spanish trade unions also have separate legally recognised structures within the workplace with a range of legal rights. These trade union sections bring together all the members of a particular union in the workplace.



In addition in larger workplaces union members can elect a trade union delegate who has a range of rights.



A high proportion of workplaces appear to exercise their right to elect employee representatives, although they are less likely to be elected in smaller workplaces. Participation in the elections is also high - around three-quarters of those entitled to vote.



Numbers and structure



The right to elect employee representatives begins in workplaces with more than 10 employees and they can be elected in workplaces with as few as six people if a majority of employees want this. Where there are fewer than 50 employees, the representatives are called employee delegates. If there are 50 or more employees then the representatives are elected as members of a works council (see table). There is no difference in terms of rights and duties between the employee delegates and the works council.



Number employed



Number of representatives










employee delegates


















works council members



























Thereafter the number of representatives increases by two for every additional 1,000 employees up to a maximum of 75.



The works council is a purely employee body. There are no members representing the employer. It is elected in at least two groups, one by the manual and the other by the non‑manual workers, and it is legally possible to set up an unspecified third group for separate election if laid down in the collective agreements.



Once elected the works council sets its own rules of procedure, for its meetings and actions. But the works council must elect from its members a secretary and a chair. Normally the chair comes from the union with the largest number of members on the works council and the secretary from the next biggest union. The works council must also meet at least once every two months and works council decisions should be taken by a majority of its members not simply the majority of those present at its meetings. The works council can also set up sub-committees on a range of issues.



The trade union sections consist of all the members of that particular union in the workplace. Their internal procedures and activities are governed by the rules of the unions. For example, the rules of the CCOO state that trade union sections should "function democratically and reach decisions on a majority basis".



In addition in workplaces with more than 250 employees, members of each union which has seats on the works council have a legal right to elect a trade union delegate. Generally there is only one trade union delegate per union but in the largest workplaces there can be more. In addition because there is normally more than one union in a workplace, there will normally be more than one union delegate in workplaces with more than 250 employees.



Tasks and rights



The tasks of the works council cover information and consultation, the provision of limited protection for individual employees, the monitoring of the application of certain labour regulations, and the control of social facilities at the workplace - provided certain conditions are met. However, they have no powers to prevent management acting as it wishes in the final instance. Unlike works councils in some other European states, works councils in Spain are also involved in collective bargaining.



On economic and financial matters, such as sales figures or profits, there is only a requirement that works councils should be informed. The works council also has rights to information on the type and number of new employment contracts being signed by the employer. It must see a copy of all of them as well as forecasts for the future. Because of the high number of temporary contracts this has been a very important issue in Spain. The employer must also give the works council statistics on absenteeism, accidents at work and occupational illness.



However, on questions such as restructuring the workforce, transferring production, changing working hours, payments systems and training, the works council must be informed in advance and be able to comment. Legislation to implement the 2002 European directive on information and consultation (2002/14/CE), which was finally passed in November 2007, slightly strengthened these general consultation rights as it included an improved definition as to when the consultation should occur.



The works council must also be consulted on large‑scale redundancies.



The works council's protective functions are exercised through its right to be present, if the employee wishes, when an employment contract is officially ended, and because it must be informed of all punishments imposed for gross misconduct.



These powers are strengthened by the fact that the works council also has a duty to monitor that the employer is complying with the law, as far as employment, social security and health and safety issues are concerned. One of the members of the works council must be nominated as safety delegate.



Works councils can also participate in the control of social facilities at the workplace, such as canteens or social clubs, as long as this has been agreed with the employer.



Works councils can negotiate binding collective agreements covering pay and conditions in their company, or part of their company. The composition of the works councils is also crucial in determining who has the right to reach collective agreements at industry level.



The trade union sections have a role both within the workplace and outside it. Inside they are a forum for discussing and promoting union policies in the workplace, as well as ensuring the payment of union subscriptions and their rights include holding meetings, collecting contributions and distributing trade union material. Outside the workplace the union sections play a part in the decision‑making structures of the union.



A key task for the trade union section is to back its union's candidates in the works council elections and discuss the policies the works council should pursue.



In smaller workplaces the key union figures will be elected members of the works council. In larger workplaces - those with more than 250 employees - the key union influence on the works council may come through the trade union delegate. He or she represents the trade union directly with speaking but not voting rights on the works council. He or she also has rights to receive the same information as works council members.



Trade union delegates also have the right to be heard by the employer before action is taken against workers in general and their own union members in particular, especially where there is a possibility that union members may be dismissed. They are thus in a stronger position than the works council as the employer is only required to inform it after the event.



Trade union delegates can also conduct collective bargaining provided they have a majority on the works council. Overall the relationship between the trade union sections and the works council varies depending on the strength of the union in the workplace.



Election and term of office



Nominations are made on the basis of lists for all members of the works council, either by the unions or by groups of individual employees provided that the number supporting a list is three times larger than the number of places to be filled.



The works council is elected on the proportion of votes which each list receives, eliminating those getting less than 5% of the votes. There is a detailed procedure for monitoring the results of the elections with disputes, in the end, being referred to the labour courts.



Elections for works councils and employee delegates take place every four years.



Trade union delegates are elected by the trade union members in the company in line with the rules of the union.



Protection against dismissal



Works council members have priority in keeping their jobs where employees are being dismissed for economic or technical reasons; they cannot be dismissed as a result of exercising their rights as a works council member; and they cannot be punished for allegedly serious misconduct without the works council having a right to make its case to the employer.



Trade union delegates have the same employment protection as members of the works council, if they are not themselves members.



Time off and other resources



Works council members are legally entitled to paid time off for their duties. The law lays down the following scale for each member of the committee: up to 100 workers – 15 hours a month; 101 to 250 workers – 20 hours a month; 251 to 500 – 30 hours; 501 to 750 – 35 hours; and above 750 – 40 hours a month. These levels can also be improved in collective agreements and their distribution between various members of the works council can also be altered. Of the 5,607 agreements registered in 2010, 1,165 covering 4.0 million employees included negotiated arrangements that were superior to the legal minimum levels, and 2,149 agreements covering 6.9 million employees allowed a redistribution of time off.1 (The centre right government is trying to reduce trade union time-off rights in the public sector to the strict legal maximum, annulling all public sector agreements which improved on them.)



In practice in large workplaces, these time-off rights are often used to allow key members of the union to devote themselves entirely to union matters off site. Many of the leading figures in the union structure at both regional and local level are still company employees.



In addition, the employer is obliged to provide the works council with an adequate room as well as notice boards for its use. In most cases the union locally also has the right to have a notice board and, if the workplace employs more than 250, an adequate room for its activities. Collective agreements can improve on these basic provisions. Trade union delegates have a right to paid time off on the same basis as works council members.



Representation at group level



A group works council, bringing together several works councils in the same company is possible but only where this is provided for in collective agreements. The maximum number of members of this group works council is 13 and its powers are those laid down by the collective agreement. The existence of a group works council does not remove the necessity for setting up individual works councils in every workplace with at least 50 employees.

L. Fulton (2013) Worker representation in Europe. Labour Research Department and ETUI. Produced with the assistance of the SEEurope Network, online publication available at http://www.worker-participation.eu/National-Industrial-Relations.